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Chinatown (1974)

Directed by:

Roman PolanskiRoman Polanski

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 131 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Country: United States

Jack Nicholson is probably one of the few men who can go through the bulk of a film with a ridiculous plaster strapped across his nose and dressed like a cross between Gareth Gates and The Man From Del Monte, and still come out of it with his credibility in tact. It’s because the man is an incredible actor – possibly THE actor – and that’s one of the main reasons the at-times boring ‘Chinatown’ remains so watchable.

Nicholson is Jake Gittes, the quick-witted hard-boilled P.I. who ends up in well over his head when he becomes embroiled in a scheming businessman’s dastardly plot to make himself some big bucks by drying out the San Fernando valley. It’s not exactly an edge-of-the-seater as far as crime hooks go – agribusiness isn’t really noted for its white-knuckle qualities – but this isn’t your average wishy-washy private ‘tec pot-boiler.

Director Roman Polanski and writer Robert Towne give us a film with the look of an old school murder-mystery but a story that creates its own formula. The direction is masterful and the story-telling painstaking in content and detail, if not entertainment value.

But it is, to all intents and purposes, Nicholson’s film. He’s literally in every scene, and the tale unfolds to us at precisely the same rate as it does to him. If Gittes isn’t finding out about it, it’s not worth knowing. Alongside a similarly well-cast Faye Dunaway as the love interest and femme fatale of the piece, J-Nick produces a performance all would-be actors should be trying to emulate. He’s tough and he can hold his own, but he’s also likable and caring – and, in all departments, Nicholson is never anything other than totally believable.

To say this is Jack’s best film is, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, ridiculous. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Shining are both vastly superior. No matter how well-made this one is, it’s slow-paced, tough-going and, for many viewers, won’t catch the imagination. But if you like a bit of noir and fancy watching something that requires all of your attention, this is definitely the film to see.

It's Got: A fantastic – and unexpected – ending.

It Needs: A fresh plaster for that injured hooter. Or at least a skin-coloured one.

DVD Extras A trailer, and some on-screen interviews with Polanski, Towne and producer Robert Evans. DVD Extras Rating: 3/10

Alternatives:

LA Confidential, The Two Jakes

Summary

It’s slow, and it’ll test your patience, but it might just be worth it.

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